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The Month of Elul and the Gentile Christian

Elul, the last month of the Jewish year, is a time to review the past and look at where you’ve come in life. It’s a preparation for the upcoming “Days of Awe”—Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—when we resolve to do better this year than last.

The theme of Elul is return to your essential self—a.k.a. teshuvah—helped along by prayer and charity. “The King is in the field,” they say, meaning that the G‑dly spark within you is much more accessible, as long as you search for it.

-from “The Month of Elul”
Chabad.org

Elul and ShofarThe month of Elul on the Jewish calendar begins this coming Sunday, September 4th. As the quote above testifies, it’s a month of preparation and personal reflection as the High Holy Days rapidly approach.

Two years ago, I wrote a rather lengthy blog post regarding the impact of Elul on both Judaism and (potentially) Christianity. Since then, things have changed a great deal.

I suppose if Christians have a “month of preparation” it occurs in the spring at the approach of Easter.

But I’ve always appreciated the formality of Judaism in endeavors of self-examination, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, and redemption.

I suppose Catholicism has its rituals and ceremonies as well, but I’ve never found them particularly Biblical or attractive (though I know some will disagree with me on this).

As non-Jews, whether we call ourselves disciples of Yeshua or Christians, we don’t really have a lot of access to the Days of Awe unless we make that access for ourselves. That requires more from us as individuals, a greater personal dedication to approaching the Throne of God, abasing ourselves, praying for the strength to turn around, to turn back toward Him.

We don’t have a community (most of us, anyway) that embraces a specific praxis focusing on the path of returning to God or trying to find Him in the first place.

A few days ago, I wrote a fictional short story about a man struggling between discovering God and hiding from life. Ultimately, it’s God who finds him, and in a rather unusual venue, certainly not in a church.

Going to GodI think that’s where many of us are much of the time. If we really make the effort to connect to God what will it say about who we are? Will we even like what we discover?

In observant Judaism, every day during the month of Elul, except for Shabbat, the shofar is sounded after morning services as a sort of “wake up call” to prepare for Rosh Hashanah or the New Year. Usually when writing a message such as an email or blog post, Jews will finish with the phrase “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”.

Psalm 27 is added to the morning and afternoon daily prayers.

There are other customs and the link I provided above to Chabad will render that information if you’re interested.

For a Jew, a relationship with God is personal, but it’s most often expressed in community. Christianity has community as well, but technically, it is represented by many people, by the nations, whereas Jews are a single people, a specific nation called out by God.

The Jewish religious calendar maps out the practice of a Jew and I suppose, depending on your denomination, your church has its own traditions and rituals as well. I’ve never found Christian traditions satisfying, though.

We don’t have the shofar blowing and it would probably seem strange to our friends and family if we started ending our missives to them with “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”.

If any of us choose to follow the prayers, we can acquire the siddur of our choice through any online Judaica store. There are probably some Messianic siddurim available. I imagine a Google search would yield appropriate results.

siddur
Photo: bcc-la.org

Thus we could follow the tradition of adding Psalm 27 to our personal prayer time. Just be mindful of context. After all, we are not Jews and we are not Israel.

According to the Chabad, selichot are prayers asking God for forgiveness. Christians believe that once forgiven, always forgiven, so this isn’t always a common practice in many churches.

My wife, who is Jewish, says that rather than being depressing because of the emphasis on sins and judgment, the High Holidays are exhilarating. God is offering to hit the “reset button,” so to speak, to lay out a brand new, squeaky clean year for His people Israel. Jews have a unique opportunity annually, to live the next year better than they did the last.

But according to the Bible, forgiveness and redemption are available for the non-Jew as well, and from a Christian perspective, it’s our devotion to Yeshua (Jesus) that allows us to access those blessings. However for people like me, who are non-traditional and Hebraically oriented in our theology, if we choose to use the month of Elul in a manner similar to the Jews, we have to create the context and practices for ourselves.

Both Christians and Jews know they can ask for forgiveness at any time of year, however, for Jews, the month of Elul is a time to concentrate on what they’ve done for the past year, to right wrongs, ask for forgiveness from those people they have offended, and to ask for forgiveness from God.

We may not belong to Jewish community, but as private individuals, we could choose to adopt some of what the Jews do during Elul anyway, though more spiritually rather than too closely mimicking Jewish praxis.

In the past, I’ve written about community for the “Messianic Gentile,” but my experiences over the past few years have taught me it’s not really available for the vast majority of us either physically or emotionally. Sure, we can create our own groups, but anyone who’s tried to run a small congregation or even a regular home Bible fellowship can tell you how difficult it is to maintain over the long haul.

Besides, trying to figure out how to have a “Hebraic” praxis for non-Jews while avoiding treading too heavily on Jewish identity and particularity isn’t easy. I’ve fought in those wars in the past and have concluded for personal reasons that since I’m not Jewish, I shouldn’t walk that path. It’s too much like stealing another person’s clothes and then wearing them as your own.

And trying to do any of this in a traditional Christian setting in most cases won’t be practical, since the “Hebraic” praxis will be alien in that context. In fact, it might be received by Christian peers adversarially.

standing aloneSo more and more, this is a blogspot about the individual non-Jew who is neither fish nor fowl, who doesn’t fit in either world, and yet can’t adjust his or her perspectives on the Bible to “get along” with a more traditional congregation, whether Christian or Jewish.

From that perspective, while the month of Elul and all that it holds is communal for the religious Jews, for the rest of us, well, those few who are like us, it remains individual, at least until the Messiah returns.

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Renewing the Lone Messianic Gentile

I came across a brief article on Rabbi Daniel Siegel’s blog called “When the Rebbe Asks: Renewing Ger Toshav,” which apparently is the topic of a soon to be published book. Actually, I found it posted on a closed Facebook group for “Messianic Gentiles”. This is the same group that has historically drawn a parallel between the Ger Toshav (“resident alien” in Jewish community) and the Messianic Gentile. I chronicled their perspective in a number of my blog posts including Not a Noahide (which I was subsequently reminded would better have been called “More than a Noahide”).

Although I no longer fret so much over issues of identity or praxis, there was something that caught my attention:

Reb Zalman favoured the renewal of the Ger Toshav as an alternative to a full conversion where it was clear that the person did not really want to become a fully practicing Jew. He wanted to see an alternative which honoured the person’s desire to be part of a local Jewish community at arm’s length.

This was a response to a problem noted in Judaism. When a Jew is married to a non-Jew, there traditionally has been two responses. The non-Jew converts to Judaism or the Jew ignores any Rabbinic direction and most likely falls away from Jewish community and practice.

An additional problem is noted in terms of the standards for practice that Jewish community holds for the Jewish convert. Often, in the author’s opinion and referencing Reb Zalman, said-observance of the convert is more lax, certainly not up to the standard of the presiding Rabbinic court. One example of this mentioned in the article is:

Some years ago, Reb Zalman challenged what he saw as too much leniency in our conversion process, to the point where he said that if we did not put a tallit kattan on a Jew by choice as he (in this case) emerged from the mikveh, then we had done nothing.

It was suggested that at least some of the converts did not truly desire to follow all of the mitzvot and converted for the sake of their Jewish spouse.

IntermarriageSo is there an alternative?

There is.

Supporting the renewal of the Ger Toshav, a non-Jew who is already married to a Jew, who does not want to follow the mitzvot as a Jew, but who is in full support of their spouse’s involvement in Jewish community and praxis.

How does this apply to the aforementioned comparison between the Ger Toshav and the Messianic Gentile?

Well, in normative Jewish community, a Messianic Gentile would in no way be considered to map to a Ger Toshav. In fact, a union between a Jew and a Messianic Gentile would be viewed as an intermarriage between a Jew and a Christian, something not in any way seen as desirable in Jewish community.

In my own small experience in Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots groups, it is fairly common for Jews and non-Jews to be intermarried. In fact, again in my experience, the sort of Jews attracted to Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots are either secular Jews or Jews who have adopted Christian practice and identity, and yet who also have a desire to reconnect to being a Jew.

The participation for many intermarried couples in Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots then, could be seen as a sort of synthesis between Christian and Jewish values and lifestyle.

Of course, I can’t speak for every intermarried couple involved in those movements, but when I was associated with those communities, that was what I saw.

Turning to my own situation as a non-Jew married to a Jew, in my case, my spouse is affiliated with normative Jewish community, specifically the Chabad and the local combined Reform/Conservative shul. She in no way can be considered as having any sort of association with Yeshua-worshippers or Christians (which is what she considers me).

synagogueSo we come back to the definition of a Ger Toshav as a person who is part of a local Jewish community at arm’s length. Well, that’s not exactly me, since I’m not part of a Jewish community at all. In fact, I’m not currently part of any worship or faith community.

However, as quoted from the Preface of the Ger Toshav book (PDF), am I a member of this “community”?

There, almost the entire Jewish leadership was married to non-Jews whose spouses, in turn, were full contributors to the community’s life and supporters of their spouses’ involvement, yet choosing not to become Jews themselves.

Nope. That would imply that I’m involved in synagogue life with my wife and support her involvement from that platform.

However, combining “at arm’s length” with supporting my spouse’s involvement in Jewish life, I find a definition of myself, and by “arm’s length” I mean I stay away from her Jewish community completely.

This isn’t news to me. It’s just interesting to find this sort of thing recorded in modern Jewish literature.

In Messianic Judaism, you can probably find many non-Jews married to Jews who are part of Jewish community and support their spouse’s full observance of the mitzvot (keeping in mind that depending on which Messianic Jewish community you sample, the level of observance will vary).

As far as my wife’s level of observance, that’s entirely up to her. Frankly, I wish she were more observant, but as she once said to me (and rather pointedly at that), she doesn’t need my permission to be Jewish.

So I keep my nose out of her business in that arena. I also have surrendered anything that even resembles Jewish praxis since she would no doubt see it as “Evangelical Jewish Cosplay”. She even wonders why, outside the home, I still avoid bacon, shrimp, and other trief, which is just about my only remaining concession to my former lifestyle.

generic white guy
Image: Cafepress.com

I’m sure a number of my former associates would be aghast to read those words (or perhaps they wouldn’t), but in some sense they were also the prompt, or part of it anyway.

The missus is my main motivation for the decisions that I’ve made, but I’m also mindful that the Messianic Jewish community in all its forms and associations, continues to struggle with just how to implement Gentile involvement in their Jewish community, keeping in mind that at least in the western nations, most Messianic Jewish communities are made up of mostly non-Jews.

I know the ideal is to create Messianic Jewish community by Jews and for Jews, and I continue to support that ideal, but it is my belief that the dream will not be realized until Messiah returns and draws his people Israel to him.

So where does that lead us?

For those non-Jews out there who adhere to the values and practices of being involved in Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots communities and who are not intermarried, not a lot. I’m sure your congregation has standards of behavior and practice for the non-Jews among them, so like any member of a congregation, you adhere to those standards or find someplace else to worship.

For non-Jews married to Jews and part of the previously referenced communities, it is likely you and your spouse share the same values and beliefs, and so there is little or no dissonance between you. Only in Messianic Jewish groups with a Jewish praxis approaching Conservative or Orthodox would there be any noticeable distinction between the observance of the Jewish and non-Jewish spouse (again, this is my opinion, your mileage may vary).

For you non-Jews who have community within a Christian setting and your beliefs are not widely accepted by your peers, you have a tough road to travel. I tried that for two years and ultimately got nowhere, though I learned a lot along the way.

If you are married to a more traditionally Christian partner, then what you experience may be similar to my own marital situation. You may share the vast majority of your lives with each other but there will always be a line neither of you may cross. The most important part of you becomes isolated from your marriage.

risk
Image: mirror.co.uk

It’s a very dicey place to live. I know. I live there.

With neither support at home or community, you depend on the Holy Spirit alone to get to through each day while maintaining a relationship with God. If you’re married to a normative Christian, renouncing a Messianic perspective and taking up the mantle of traditional Christianity becomes the temptation.

For folks like me, it’s renouncing Yeshua entirely. Even if I did that, I doubt the missus would accept my adopting the Ger Toshav identity, so I’d still be alone in belief or disbelief as the case may be.

Assuming Hashem has control of all things, I wonder why He would sanction this perpetual walk along a sheer cliff. Or perhaps like the question, “why do bad things happen to good people,” it’s simply a matter of living in a broken world fallen far from God. These events occur because the King has yet to assume his throne in Jerusalem and take up his reign.

So like the rest of humanity living precariously and dancing madly on the edge of a razor blade, I and those like me just have to keep hanging in there.

Shavuot and the Christian Revisited

Torah is the life blood of the Jewish people. Our enemies have always known that when we Jews stop learning Torah, our assimilation is inevitable. Without knowledge there is no commitment. One cannot love what he does not know. A person cannot do or understand what he has never learned.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly for Shavuot”
Aish.com

tongues of fireIn the past, I’ve written quite a bit on the Festival of Shavuot such as Bamidbar and Shavuot: Souls in the Desert and What Should Shavuot Mean to Me. This holiday commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Children of Israel at Sinai. Shavuot is also closely associated with the Pentecost event as recorded in Acts 2:1-13.

Of late, I have distanced myself from more formal expressions of Messianic Judaism, and so I decided to revisit the question “What should Shavuot mean to me?” I reviewed my previous comments on the matter. Things have changed even more since then.

In his commentary, Rabbi Packouz continued:

A Jew is commanded to learn Torah day and night and to teach it to his children. If a Jew wants his family to be Jewish and his children to marry other Jews, then he must integrate a Torah study program into his life and implement the teachings into his home and his being. One can tell his children anything, but only if they see their parents learning and doing mitzvot, will they inherit the love for being Jewish. Remember: a parent only owes his child three things — example, example, example.

Well, that’s for a Jew. The Torah wasn’t given to the nations at Sinai and we didn’t inherit it either at Acts 2 or Acts 15. We have, by inference, received the promise of the Holy Spirit and Acts 10 does record non-Jews receiving such a Spirit, so the Pentecost event should have some significance for us.

But there’s a disconnect between people of the nations receiving the Spirit and other of the New Covenant blessings solely by the grace and mercy of God, and the Children of Israel receiving the Torah as the conditions of the Sinai Covenant.

So we non-Jewish disciples of our Rav should be cautious as to how much of Shavuot we claim, since it doesn’t belong to us. While I enjoy reading Rabbi Packouz and the other Aish rabbis, I’m distinctly aware that they are writing solely for a Jewish audience. It’s just that they can’t block any non-Jew who happens to visit their site.

As I was reading R. Packouz, a pop-up appeared inviting me to chat with an Aish.com Rabbi. I don’t know what I’d say and I’m sure he’d be in the same bind, hence I minimized the window.

I did come across another Aish article written by Rabbi Moshe Greene called The Yiddish Speaking Latino Cop. I won’t quote from it, but I encourage you to read it, as the article describes how a non-Jewish retired police officer named Donny became so close to a great chassidic leader, that he “picked up” Yiddish, and perhaps much more.

Tikkum OlamUltimately, the story is about encouraging Jewish unity, not the role of a non-Jew in that process. That said, it was Donny who asked Rabbi Greene a pointed question that resulted in his writing about the encounter for Shavuot.

But unlike Donny, we might not find ourselves in a unique position to have those insights and experiences that might actually cause a Rabbi to think in a new direction. However, as R. Greene mentioned (though regarding only Jews), we all can participate in the process of Tikkun Olam, or making the world a better place.

Perhaps for the Gentile, Shavuot is less about the Torah, the Sinai Covenant, the Festival, and the traditions, than it is a reminder that as possessors of the Spirit of God and in the name of our Rav, we too can do our part to make the world just a little bit better.

In that, there are no limits.

Maybe It’s A Relief Not To Be Jewish

The title of today’s little missive will probably rub at least some people the wrong way, but hear me out.

Living with a Jewish wife, a non-Messianic Jewish wife, one who shares absolutely no common theology with me, is sometimes quite illuminating. Last week, the oldest son of the local Chabad Rabbi and Rabbitzen had his Bar Mitzvah. Apparently, I’m quite ignorant about all this, since I thought it would be on Shabbos.

Not so (although there was another related event on Shabbos). It was on Thursday. There were a ton of Jews from Crown Heights (Brooklyn) who came for the affair. My wife helped cook tons and tons of kosher meals since Boise is hardly the center of a thriving Jewish community, thus Kosher is hard to come by.

Jewish Man PrayingMy wife is very protective of her Judaism and her Jewish community. The occasional “Messianic” (Jew or Gentile, it doesn’t really matter to her) who shows up at Chabad kind of rubs her the wrong way. Fortunately, the Bar Mitzvah was by invitation only, so it was unlikely to attract the casually curious or the Messianic who wanted to dive a tad deeper into actual Jewish life.

By the way, one of the people she’s protecting the local Jewish community from is me. I’m never quite sure if my asking something like, “How did the Bar Mitzvah go” will be perceived as genuine interest or as an intrusion (fortunately the former in this case).

Processing all this over the past several days, and doing a lot of detailed lawn work while the missus was at Shabbos services (all day in this case, there was a lot of “hobnobbing” to do), I realized that maybe it’s a good thing I’m not Jewish.

Really, I can’t stand being stuck in a crowd, particularly made up of (mostly) people I don’t know, for a long period of time. If, for some strange reason, my wife had asked me to attend with her, I’d feel like the proverbial fish out of water. I’ve read some books on the Rebbe and the Chabad, but I’m sure I’d fit in at a Chabad Bar Mitzvah about as much as a Pepperoni and Canadian Bacon pizza.

The missus is about as much of an introvert as I am, so when she finally came home from Shabbos services and the subsequent activities around 5 p.m., she was wiped out. I don’t blame her.

Jewish in JerusalemI don’t blame her for not including me in her Jewish life, either. The more I’ve disconnected myself from any formal association with Messianic Jewish groups, the more I have begun to realize that maybe I never belonged in the first place. Of course, I belong in a church about as much as a nudist in a nunnery, so I’m not saying that traditional Christianity is an option for me either.

I am saying that a Gentile (well, me anyway) attempting to adopt Jewish practices is kind of like putting a cat in a doghouse. One of these things is not like the other.

My wife showed me a photo of the Bar Mitzvah boy. Wow, what a young face. He was also wearing one of those black fedoras and a black jacket, which seemed strange on a kid that age. But then again, I’m not Chabad or even Jewish. Even if I discovered some long-lost family secret that my mother was Jewish, while halachically, that might make me Jewish, at almost 62 years of age, I would still lack a lifetime of Jewish experience.

In other words, I’d still think and feel like a Goy.

I think it’s OK for me and people like me to not pretend to be someone and something we’re not. It’s OK not to engage in what I’ve heard called “Evangelical Jewish Cosplay”.

I don’t think I have a Jewish soul, and I don’t think I’ve got long, lost Jewish ancestors, and I don’t think I’m a descendent of one of the lost tribes or any of that stuff.

I hang onto my current understanding of the Bible because it’s the one that makes the most sense. That’s why I’m about as welcome in a Christian Bible study group as a quart of Vodka at an AA meeting. Sooner or later, I’m going to say something that will be perceived as a threat.

Just showing up in a traditional Jewish venue would be enough to be looked at askance since I’m a Christian (what my wife calls me, not necessarily how I see myself).

Like I said, it’s easier and better to avoid trying to be something you’re not, especially since you’ll (I’ll) stick out like a clown at a funeral. Oh, for a time I can “blend into” a Church setting, but only until I open my mouth.

If religious community is important to you, then I hope you’ve got one where you are accepted for the person you are. I hope you fit in.

For those of you who don’t, welcome. That’s my world. That’s the world of a lot of us who hold to an alternate view of the Bible’s overarching message, particularly the actual meaning of the New Covenant. Some of you have found enough fellow “oddballs” within driving distance that you have formed your own groups. That’s good.

But we’re pretty strange ducks, and sometimes there isn’t a significant number of like-minded oddballs around to get together with.

Besides, within our own little sub-group, there are numerous sub-sub-groups who are just different enough to where we’re not going to get along for one reason or another.

generic white guy
Image: Cafepress.com

And then, there are those folks who are just plain “out there”.

So, if you have ever gotten that feeling that you don’t fit in, no matter how hard you try, maybe you’re trying too hard to belong in the wrong place. Instead of having that make you feel disenfranchised, maybe you should feel grateful.

Thank you God for making me who I am, even if that sort of person isn’t very common, and even if that person isn’t always easy for others to understand. The downside is you don’t have a small Bible study group to go to every Wednesday night (at least not without starting a theological “knife fight”). The upside is you don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not. All you have to do is be the person you are.

If God created you (and me), then He understands.

The Non-Covenant Relationship with God

One of the difficulties…that Christian theologies have not really grasped, is that Rav Yeshua’s gentile disciples don’t actually participate in any covenant whatsoever. Perhaps that is why they invent fictitious covenants. What they have instead of a covenant is an individually-based responsibility to rely on HaShem’s unchanging character and graciousness. They must trust HaShem Who wishes all humanity to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, as Rav Shaul wrote to Timothy in 1 Tim. 2:3-4. They, and their children, and their children’s children, each must approach HaShem as trusting individuals. They may pass to their children a heritage of knowledge about how to trust HaShem, but each must choose to embrace and employ that knowledge afresh in their own lives. They may form collective communities of faith-filled individuals, and they may covenant with each other to serve HaShem, but they do not possess a collective responsibility under a covenant with HaShem in which HaShem has bound Himself by His Oath.

-ProclaimLiberty
from one of his recent comments

I’ve written about the “connection” (or lack thereof) between Gentile believers and the New Covenant many times before, and I agree with ProclaimLiberty (PL) that we non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) are not named participants in the New Covenant (see Jer. 31, Ezek. 36), and thus we have no stake in those covenant promises.

That might come as a shock to some of you.

MessiahBut through Hashem’s grace and mercy for the human race, He has allowed any of us who attach ourselves to Israel through our Rav to benefit from some of the blessings of that covenant.

We know that Hashem wants all human beings, not just Israel, to come to a knowledge of Him, to become His servants, to worship Him alone as the God of Israel:

That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.

Isaiah 45:23 (NASB)

For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

Romans 14:11

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:3-4

These are just a few scriptural examples illustrating God’s desire for all people, both Israel and the nations, to be devoted to Him.

But what PL wrote made me think. The Jewish people are collectively Israel, and the covenants apply to all Israel. Yes, each individual Jew has his or her own responsibilities to fulfill under covenant, but ultimately, God doesn’t covenant with each individual Jew, but with all of them, past, present, and future.

A Jew is the only person to be born into a covenant relationship with God whether he or she wants to.

Not so with the rest of us.

NoahExcept for the Noahide covenant, which Hashem made with all living things, we are born into no relationship with God at all. If we want a relationship with Him, we have to choose that for ourselves and then act on it (not that the Spirit of God can’t send us certain “prompts”).

Good thing we have free will to make that choice.

But then I thought about the “Church,” which is something of an artificial construct, so I dug back into the concept of the “ekklesia”.

Nearly two years ago, in a fit of insomnia, I started exploring the meaning of ekklesia:

noun, plural ec·cle·si·ae [ih-klee-zhee-ee, -zee-ee] Show IPA .

1. an assembly, especially the popular assembly of ancient Athens.

2. a congregation; church.

Origin: 1570–80; < Latin < Greek ekklēsía assembly, equivalent to ékklēt ( os ) summoned ( ek- ec- + klē-, variant of kal-, stem of kaleîn to call, + -tos past participle suffix) + -ia -ia

Also:

— n , pl -siae
1. (in formal Church usage) a congregation
2. the assembly of citizens of an ancient Greek state

[C16: from Medieval Latin, from Late Greek ekklēsia assembly, from ekklētos called, from ekkalein to call out, from kalein to call]

the crowdI tend to think of the ekklesia in its broadest sense, as that world-wide body of people, Jews and Gentiles, who have answered the call of Rav Yeshua to follow his teachings and draw nearer to Hashem. For Jews, this is the next “evolutionary” step or the next logical extension of their covenant relationship with Hashem, since Rav Yeshua is the mediator of the New Covenant.

For non-Jews, we are allowed to draw near to Israel and be “grafted in” (and being grafted in to the promises doesn’t make us Israel) to stand alongside Israel within the body of the ekklesia so that we can benefit from many of the blessings of the New Covenant.

Here’s where things get blurry.

PL describes we non-Jews as coming to Hashem through Rav Yeshua individually. It is true that in the Church it’s said that “God doesn’t have grandchildren.” This means that even if you are a Yeshua-disciple, your kids may not be. They don’t inherit a relationship with God  just because you have one.

This is the exact reverse of a Jew’s covenant relationship with Hashem. When Jewish parents have a child, that child does inherit a covenant relationship with Hashem by virtue of the fact that he or she has Jewish parents (or a Jewish mother in the case of my children).

As non-Jews, one-by-one, we come to faith and trust in Rav Yeshua and it is our custom to gather together with other individual non-Jewish believers in a congregation to worship and fellowship. In and of itself, a “church” is an expression of part of the world-wide ekklesia, the larger body of Jewish and Gentile believers.

PL said of we non-Jewish disciples:

They may form collective communities of faith-filled individuals, and they may covenant with each other to serve HaShem, but they do not possess a collective responsibility under a covenant with HaShem in which HaShem has bound Himself by His Oath.

synagogueI believe this is true, but it’s still difficult to reconcile with emotionally. Reading this statement, makes me feel disconnected and unattached.

I know my attachment is symbolic and metaphorical, even though it has real, tangible results, but it draws a sharp distinction of what happens when Jews gather together in a synagogue on Shabbos, and what happens when Christians come together in church on Sunday.

The former are bound not only to each other but to Hashem by covenant, a formal, specified, and direct relationship between Israel and their God. We “Christians” voluntarily covenant with each other and are beneficiaries of the kindness of the God of Israel, though we have no formal relationship with Him.

It made me realize just how fragile that relationship is.

Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?

Romans 11:22-24

I believe being born into a covenant relationship with Hashem has a cost. If you are Jewish and choose to disregard the covenants and your responsibilities relative to them (Shabbat, kosher, davening, tzedakah, and so on), I believe that at the judgment, there will be consequences. None of my children are even slightly religious and my wife’s observance is “so-so” and I worry about that.

As far as being “natural branches,” I don’t know their state at present. But I do know that even as they are, they are still members of the covenants simply because they’re Jewish.

ShabbatI’ve heard it said that Judaism isn’t an all or nothing religion, so every time my wife does go to shul, davens, lights the Shabbos candles, or observes other mitzvot, I’m pleased. But there’s always more to do.

Even a secular Jew is a Jew, and even being non-observant, has a relationship with Hashem (even if they’re totally unaware of it).

We non-Jews, on the other hand, though we don’t have a formal relationship with Hashem, also don’t have as many rights and responsibilities. We get a lot of the same benefits (the Holy Spirit, the promise of the resurrection in the world to come, the love of Hashem, prayer) without the obligations shouldered by collective Israel (and there’s no other way to think of Israel except “collective”).

But our “attachment” to that metaphorical olive tree isn’t as secure as is Israel’s. The covenants are a lock. They don’t go away just because Israel as a whole or any individual Jew is not observant. The only thing that changes are the consequences, one set for obedience, and another set for disobedience.

For the rest of us, we need to watch our “Ps and Qs” so to speak. As Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) wrote (Romans 11:18), if we are arrogant and put “the Church” ahead of Israel, we can easily be knocked off the root. The root (and I believe one way to look at the root is as Israel’s covenant relationship with God) supports us, not the other way around.

The root belongs to Israel by covenant right, and we Gentiles are merely “resident aliens” among Israel (metaphorically speaking). We have no rights. We are granted guest status just because God’s a “nice guy,” so to speak. Not that God would do it, but if any one of us gets out of line, God could blow us off the root with a (metaphorical) sneeze.

That should make you feel a little insecure. I feel a little insecure.

But that’s not the end of it. PL finished his comment this way:

Curiously enough, because HaShem is faithful to those who place their trust in Him, and because He values the voluntary commitment of people who cling to His precepts without the demands of a covenant (as described of the foreigners in Is. 56), gentile disciples may benefit practically in a manner that is very similar to the benefits promised to Jews under the covenant. The advantages possessed by Jews, which Rav Shaul described to the Romans in the third chapter of his letter, are still very much valid and effective, and “grafted-in” wild gentile olive branches have no reason to boast of their position relative to native acculturated Jewish branches on his metaphorical olive tree of faith, but the wild branches are no longer merely fodder to be fed into a fire. One does not require a covenant to accept HaShem’s benefits, but one should not be jealous merely because someone else (namely the Jewish people) does have one. In fact, one may be grateful that HaShem’s covenantal faithfulness toward Jews demonstrates that He may be trusted even without a covenant. And this enables gentile disciples also to pursue faithfulness in response to HaShem’s gracious provision of all manner of blessings.

interfaith prayerWe non-Jewish disciples are living proof that God can be trusted beyond the covenant promises to Israel. Covenants are highly formal and specific agreements between two parties, but every word the comes from the mouth of the living God is trustworthy, carved in stone, immutable, unchangeable, and utterly reliable.

We may only come to God one-by-one as non-Jews outside of the covenants, but we are more than just individuals. We are part of something greater. We voluntarily come to Hashem, and we may voluntarily covenant with each other when we gather together, but we are more than just a group of individuals. We are members of the ekklesia and we make up a huge portion of the ekklesia alongside of Israel. We are different from the sum of our parts because the grace of God has made us children and family of the Most High.

Attached and Yet Unattached

As a centrist movement, Conservative/Masorti Judaism strives to reconcile ancient ideas with modern understandings. Utilizing this approach, twenty years ago, a group of Temple Emunah members, led by Barbara Palant, began to consider how we could become a more welcoming community—one that embraces interfaith families while still adhering to our time-honored traditions.

Following the Rabbinical Assembly’s practice, Temple Emunah has adopted the phrase “K’rovei Yisrael” to refer to those individuals who are part of our community and part of a Jewish home, though they are not personally Jewish. The term literally means “those who are close to [the people of] Israel.” K’rovei comes from the word “karov,” meaning “close;” krovim means “relatives.” K’rovei Yisrael are distinct from non-Jewish friends and extended family members who might visit our community or our congregation for a Bar Mitzvah or for some other reason. K’rovei Yisrael are also different from non-Jewish relatives of Temple Emunah members who choose not to be involved in our synagogue community.

-Rabbi David Lerner
Welcoming K’rovei Yisrael at Temple Emunah Today
TempleEmunah.org

I saw a link to this webpage posted in a closed Facebook group for “Messianic Gentiles”. I don’t recall the actual context involved, but if you look at the content of Temple Emunah’s webpage for “K’rovei Yisrael,” you can see they have rather liberal social and religious tastes, and in this particular instance, are outlining the roles and responsibilities of intermarried non-Jews who are part of their synagogue “family”.

intermarriageI can see why this would be appealing to a group of Messianic Gentiles, but this only works under certain circumstances, the circumstances outlined in Rabbi Lerner’s brief missive. It only works if you are not only regularly attending a (Messianic) synagogue that is primarily a Jewish space that permits Gentile involvement, but also, that you are married to a Jew.

Of course that second qualification could be adapted such that you are a regular attendee and while not intermarried, have nevertheless bound yourself to Israel through devotion to Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) as the coming Moshiach, and to Hashem, God of Israel.

Rabbi Lerner’s welcome to K’rovei Yisrael is very enthusiastic and encouraging, offering many opportunities for synagogue participation by non-Jewish “family members,” but I wanted to focus on the limitations he presented:

Out of respect for our traditions, K’rovei Yisrael should not participate in rituals with the Torah including:

  • Aliyot, opening/closing ark, and performing hagbah or gelilah (lifting or rolling/dressing the Torah).
  • Wear tefillin. If K’rovei Yisrael want to learn more about tefillin for educational purposes, they are invited to speak with me.
  • Recite any prayer that fulfills the ritual obligation of another person; for example, reciting Kiddush over the wine or another blessing for the community.
  • Recite b’rakhot, sign the ketubah as a witness, or read the ketubah as part of the ceremony at a Jewish wedding.
  • Hold committee chairmanship or board member positions, or vote at congregational meetings (per policies of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism).

To me, this makes perfect sense. Rabbi Lerner may be offering an extraordinarily generous opportunity for intermarried non-Jews to be part of synagogue community, but at the end of the day, even if you live in a Jewish home as a non-Jew, you’re not Jewish, which means, even if you share devotion to Rav Yeshua with the Jews in your community, there are just certain things that belong to the Jewish people because of their covenant standing with Hashem.

Here’s a little more from R. Lerner’s article:

The areas that become challenging are those where K’rovei Yisrael are symbolically enacting a ritual that signifies their commitment to our tradition, which would not be accurate. For example, when Jews take an Aliyah to the Torah, they are not merely standing at the Torah; they are acting out a drama that reflects their relationship to the Torah. First, they are called up with their Hebrew name, something that K’rovei Yisrael do not have. Second, an Aliyah is ascending to the Torah, accepting the Torah as the binding force for living your life.

chabad
Credit: jewishvenice.org

R. Lerner speaks more about Jewish tradition, but for me, what he’s describing is the covenant relationship with God that a Jew possesses over the non-Jew.

I’ve written at length about particularly how the New Covenant was made specifically with the House of Judah and the House of Israel, and if we non-Jewish Yeshua-disciples are able to reap some of the blessings from that covenant, it’s not because we are named parties, it is only because Hashem has grace and mercy toward us.

Most of us (non-Jews) who are intermarrieds, if we found ourselves in such a synagogue, out of respect for the Rabbi, out of respect for the Jewish synagogue community, and particularly out of respect for our Jewish spouses, we would be more than happy to accept the limitations along with the opportunities being offered.

However, as Yeshua-believers, if we find ourselves in a Jewish community of Yeshua-believers, somehow we think that doesn’t matter anymore and we have been elevated to equal covenant status with the Jews. So we want to be called up for an Aliyah, we want to wear a tallit gadol, we want to lay tefillin, we want to be counted as part of a minyan.

It seems that at least some groups believe Yeshua-faith is a license to abrogate the unique and exclusive covenant relationship that Israel and the Jewish people have with Hashem. Is this what our Rav, the once and future King (so to speak), Moshiach, the Jewish Messiah wanted when he called upon Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) to become the special emissary to the Gentiles?

It hardly seems likely, for it represents a gross betrayal of everything God did for Israel by covenant.

Ironically, in some ways, this is exactly the sort of betrayal that both normative Judaism and normative Christianity believe Paul is guilty of. Except, Christians don’t look of it as guilt or betrayal, just replacement, inclusiveness, or whatever you want to call it.

I also recently read another article called How Jewish Christians Became Christians, which is a short summary from Lawrence H. Schiffman’s book From Text to Tradition, A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism .

The split between Judaism and Christianity did not come about simply or quickly. It was a complex process which took some one hundred years, starting from the crucifixion [of Jesus], and which had different causes and effects depending on whether it is looked at from the point of view of Judaism or Christianity. Further, the question of legal status as seen through Roman eyes also had some relationship to the issue.

Apostle Paul preachingThe article is relatively kind to early “Christianity” as a Jewish movement with an unusually liberal policy regarding Gentile admission. However, it does describe the Christian view of what caused the schism to the massive influx of non-Jews who did not see themselves as part of Jewish community. So…

…the New Testament redactors had clearly decided that they were no longer part of the Jewish people. Therefore, they described Jesus as disputing with all the Jews, not just some, as would be appropriate to an internal Jewish dispute. Once Christians saw Jews as the “other,” it was but a short step to the notion that all Jews were responsible for the rejection of Jesus and, hence, for the failure of his messianic mission to be fulfilled.

This perspective has echoed through nearly twenty-centuries of Church history and fuels much of how Christianity interprets Rav Yeshua’s relationship to his fellow Jews today. And yet, even a casual reading of the Gospels by someone who is not inculcated in Christian exegetical tradition will illustrate…

In the earliest Gospel texts, which picture Jesus as debating issues of Jewish law with the Pharisees, no hostility is observed. The crucifixion is said to have been carried out by the Romans with the support of some (apparently Hellenized) priests.

In other words, the Gospels we have with us today show Rav Yeshua having what Jews would consider perfectly normal and acceptable debates with fellow Jews on matters of halachah. This remains perfectly normal and acceptable behavior within religious Judaism today. It’s a matter of the Jewish “us” arguing with the Jewish “us”, not “us against them”.

Even for we Gentiles who accept that Christian theology and doctrine is based more on traditions that were originally created by those early non-Jewish “Church fathers” who sought to separate their newly created religion from the Jewish scriptural understanding, the Jewish people, and Judaism, it can sometimes be difficult to escape our past. We still sometimes tend to give in to the old habits and attitudes we were taught in our churches.

We still have a tough time understanding that “neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28) means that we are all equal in God’s love, in receiving the Holy Spirit, in having a place in the world to come, without it also meaning that there are absolutely no covenant distinctions between the two groups.

However, all of this only becomes a problem at the intersection of Jews and non-Jews in (Messianic) Jewish religious community.

It’s a moot point for those of us not in community, Jewish or otherwise. Also, as I briefly explored in another recent blog post, there seems to be a movement of sorts among Messianic Jews in Israel to become participants in more normative Jewish synagogue life with the goal of being integral members of those communities (to paraphrase PL’s comment on the matter).

synagogueWhile this strengthens the ties between Messianic Jews and the larger Jewish community in the Land, by necessity, Gentiles will not be involved, so again, the points I brought up regarding the aforementioned “intersection” become moot.

And as Rabbi Lerner wrote in his article to K’rovei Yisrael:

The blessings themselves indicate how integral the Torah is in our lives and that we have been given a unique destiny as Jews to live by its ideals, bringing them fully into the world.

I know that many of us, when we became involved in Hebrew Roots or Messianic Judaism, or whatever opened your eyes to the more “Hebraic” nature, not only of the Tanakh (Old Testament), but especially the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament), we became attached and even enamoured with Jewish community, such that we actually had access to, as well as Jewish praxis, ritual, and tradition.

There are a lot of non-Jewish people who were dismayed, discouraged, and even insulted when various Jewish and Gentile pundits in Messianic Jewish space (including little ol’ me) basically said, “Back off…some Jewish stuff just doesn’t belong to you.”

If the movement in Israel for Messianic Jews to integrate into normative (Orthodox) Jewish community takes hold, and especially if it becomes the model for Messianic Jewish practice in other nations, including the U.S., then opportunities for non-Jewish participation in Messianic Jewish community dwindle.

This doesn’t particularly affect me. I’ve accepted it in my life, but for others, it may come as quite a blow. Of course, all this is just speculation and at least in the U.S., authentically Jewish Messianic synagogues which service a majority Jewish population are not especially plentiful.

But for me, it again emphasizes that Judaism as such isn’t the primary interface by which we non-Jewish disciples access our Rav or access the God of Israel (though I’m still fond of my “Jewish lens”). This is probably what the early non-Jewish disciples in the Apostle Paul’s day and soon after experienced. You have a religious structure that is uniquely by and for Israel and that affords Israel a covenantal relationship with God, as well as a rich lifestyle of Torah practice, but so much of it doesn’t include the rest of us. How could Judaism possibly be an anchor for us?

ChurchThe answer, almost two-thousand years ago, was for the Gentiles to leave en masse and to develop a brand new Gentile-focused religion: Christianity. But now, for whatever reasons, many Christians are leaving the Church in pursuit of some aspect of Judaism as they understand it, whether it’s formal conversion, becoming a Noahide, Hebrew Roots, or Messianic Judaism.

But that puts us right back where we came from, so to speak. Christianity, as it has turned out to be, doesn’t accurately understand why the centrality of Israel is so important in God’s redemptive plan for the world, and those of us who have figured it out, leave the Church because of that. But increasingly, there’s less and less room for non-Jews who are attracted to Israel, and who want to attach themselves to Israel and thus to Israel’s God to find a place among Israel, even as “resident aliens,” at least as far as I can tell from my little corner of Idaho.

It would be easier for me, as a Gentile husband to a Jewish wife, to find a role in Jewish community in Rabbi Lerner’s synagogue (assuming my wife attended and desired my participation) than it would be for me to have a role in Messianic Judaism, at least if the goal is for Messianic Judaism to become an increasingly integral part of larger (Orthodox) Judaism and Israel.

On the one hand, that’s where Jews need to be, among other Jews in Jewish community. That’s why I’m delighted that my wife does that, both in our local Reform/Conservative group and with the Chabad. But on the other hand, we Gentiles in Rav Yeshua are facing the same dilemma that we faced in the First Century C.E.

My personal answer is to give up the identity crisis and to develop my relationship with my Rav in isolation (with the help of the Internet, of course). What I say, think, do, and believe in private affects no one, except to the degree that I write about it on this blog. And even then, you can choose to read or not read what I produce. Your decision.

But my answer isn’t everybody’s answer.

I get that Messianic Jews are Jews and I understand, having my wife as a living example, what that means. I also get why some Messianic Gentiles are looking to Noahides as a model for how to define themselves. For both Christianity and Judaism, community is extremely important and it provides a lot of support and encouragement.

But I also understand that the natural consequence of all this is that we non-Jewish Yeshua disciples who will never fit in at a church and who possess this peculiar “Judaically-aware” perspective on the meaning of the Bible, the meaning of Messiah, and the meaning of Hashem’s overarching plan of redemption for Israel, and through Israel, the world, are left with the option of either somehow forming our own communities of “Gentile-focused Messianics” or go it alone.

MessiahI’m sure God has an answer to all this, and I don’t doubt that when Messiah physically rules Israel and the nations from his throne in Jerusalem, that he will enact laws and practices to address these questions, but in the present, in order to preserve (Messianic) Jewish identity, community, and unity, the rest of us have to figure out how to do something else by going somewhere else.

I wrote Why Worshiping Alone Matters and Why We Are Never Alone as possible responses to this issue. I hope they can be an answer for you, too.

I don’t know if the following applies, but I’ll include it anyway, just in case:

“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath
And holds fast My covenant;

Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;
For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”

The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares,
“Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”

Isaiah 56:6-8 (NASB)